Zimbabwe steps up efforts to strengthen its biosafety mechanism
Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
Zimbabwe is taking practical steps to enhance its biosafety and biosecurity mechanism to protect human and animal health and the environment from the possible effects of products of biotechnology whilst at the same time seizing opportunities that come with new technologies to improve livelihoods and spur the desired economic growth levels.
Professor Fanuel Tagwira, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development told participants on Wednesday at a national stakeholders’ consultative workshop for the Fourth National Report on the Implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety that it was important for the country to strengthen its biosafety measures.
“Biosafety issues need to be addressed at national level as they impact the economy,” he said.
“In a bid to benefit from the opportunities presented by the new and emerging technologies and innovations, whilst simultaneously protecting ourselves from any potential risks that may arise in the process the Government established the National Biotechnology Authority to be the national competent authority for all biotechnology and biosafety matters in Zimbabwe.”
NBA also serves as both the National Focal Point and the National Competent Authority for the Biosafety Clearing House of the Cartagena Protocol of Biosafety.
“Contrary to popular belief, particularly in Zimbabwe, biotechnology is not synonymous with genetic modification, but rather it is a technology that encompasses a wide range of techniques that can be applied in our agriculture, food, health and environment sectors,” Prof Tagwira said.
“We want to use technology to boost our economy but adherence to biosafety measures is of paramount importance for sustainable development.”
The NBA held the consultative workshop to review and validate the Fourth National Report on the Implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international agreement on biosafety, which seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.
Zimbabwe ratified the Cartagena Protocol in February 2005 and NBA was designated as the National Competent Authority.
The country was pressing ahead to strengthen its systems for biosecurity risk prevention and control, including risk monitoring and early warning, risk investigation and assessment and information sharing.
Speaking at the same event, NBA chief executive and registrar Dr Dexter Savadye said it was important to strengthen the understanding of biotechnology issues so that people could fully understand the health, environmental and consumer protection regulations that exist in the country.
“Biosafety is of paramount importance when we carry out our biotechnology applications. As a signatory of Cartagena Protocol we must abide by that protocol. As the NBA, we take the handling of all biotechnology materials seriously and all the handling, transportation and approval is done by us.”
Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to produce a product or service which is beneficial.
Zimbabwe has legislative instruments in place to allow the processing of applications for research up to the open quarantine or confined field trial level.
The country still maintains a ban on the commercial release of GM crops due to health and environmental safety concerns.
However, in areas where adequate biosecurity measures have been taken, the country is moving to harness the benefits that come with biotechnology applications in key sectors that include agriculture, food, health and the environment.